Sorry about skipping the joke today. My mind has been blown by a lot of interaction and memories and stuff due to the family gatherings.
However, I had to stop and post about Joe Konrath's post today. He puts great words to something I've always believed in my gut, but I have always been too distracted by detail to get the big picture.
What he's talking about is probably the most important thing about being a writer -- or artist, or human. As a reader or viewer or customer, you're passive. This magic happens for you and it seems like magic. But that magical experience comes from deliberate choices of the creator.
Beginning writers do not have the skill to be fully deliberate about everything they do -- every detail. And many writers get to rely on that. They like to imagine some magical inspiration or something doing the work for them. And that makes them lazy.
But a master is deliberate about everything. And if you want to be a master, you should start being deliberate before you actually make it to master.
This relates obliquely to one of the things I talk about a lot. Konrath mentions the fact that most people seem to assume anything they don't like is a mistake -- and writers who aren't deliberate about what they do feed this prejudice because, well, if you're not deliberate, a lot of what you do IS an accident, even when it's the best thing you do.
Over the past few years I've talked here quite a bit about things like nurturing your darlings rather than killing them, and about the value of Mary Sue, and about how legitimacy is overrated.
Conformity is a natural instinct, and a convenient one -- we can do things without the work of deliberation when we just go along with what the group mind says is right. As often as not, the group mind is pretty good at things like, oh, avoiding danger and surviving. But it takes nonconformity to invent new things. And nonconformity means you have to be deliberate. You have to think for yourself.
If you are nonconformist, it's not an excuse to skip the work of being a conformist. Nonconformity is more work, not less. Nobody has beaten a path for you. The whole point of nonconformity is that it's worth the extra effort.
(I say this because so often people jump for nonconformity as an excuse to escape the rules. Because after all, getting published the traditional way is such hard work.)
But one of the big jobs of being a nonconformist -- something Konrath touches on -- is that you have to be able to shake off criticism. I don't mean just ignore it. I mean that you have to be able to listen to it and not be bothered or swayed from your path.
Some criticism is directly useful -- this this is actually very rare once you are actually writing "deliberately" as Konrath describes it. That is, if you have sufficient command of language to do what you intend to do. At that point, it is extremely rare for someone to be able to give you specific info on how to do what YOU want to do better. It happens, but not that much.
A lot of criticism is indirectly useful, though. What it does is give you a view of how other people think. How they see things. Who your audience is and is not. This is the element of criticism which is not only most useful, but is also most overlooked. You aren't learning about you, you're learning about them. Since writing is about communication of your deliberately chosen adventure, understanding your audience is critical.
The key is reaching that point where you are actually deliberate about all those choices. That's the tough part.
Anyway, read Joe's post. It's nice to see him posting about craft, since he spends so much time on business and I think we need a little more of this.
See you in the funny papers.